Smile! That teeth-whitening offer might be a scam

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An employee of a local grocery store called me with a story I found hard to believe. It seems that a woman wearing scrubs, the clothing that staffs of doctors and dentists sometimes wear, was wandering around the food store, selling teeth whitening services. The reported offer was to sell an individual a coupon for $60 that would entitle the buyer to a discount of hundreds of dollars on their teeth whitening. The person peddling these coupons, by wearing medical attire, was clearly attempting to give the impression that they themselves were employed in the medical arts. I don’t know that they weren’t, but I have my doubts.

The person selling these coupons was reported to be using high-pressure sales tactics, including following employees into areas of the store clearly marked “employees only.” One individual reported that she actually had a handful of cash. Further, she was “accepting” credit and debit card numbers, expiration dates and security codes, instead of cash.

I immediately did some research and found a company closely matching the description. I contacted the company by Instant Message and tried to find out if the coupons were in fact being offered by a locally licensed dentist. The company rep assured me that there were local offices, one in Coeur d’Alene and one in Ponderay, but they wouldn’t disclose the name of the dentist. The grocery store management had no idea this was going on, although the seller of the coupons claimed to have had the store’s permission.

I contacted the store manager and he’s going to look into the matter. I also asked if the seller of the coupons could meet me in the DVD/Customer Service section of the store. The company assured me they would. In fact, the coupon seller will be meeting the store manager. Should be an interesting meeting!

If you’re in the market for teeth whitening, talk to your dentist. Don’t buy coupons by someone pretending to be a medical professional, dressed in scrubs, in the produce aisle next to the cabbages. And for heaven’s sake, DON’T GIVE OUT CASH, OR WORSE, CREDIT or DEBIT CARD INFORMATION.

MY ADVICE: If you did buy a “whitening coupon,” immediately put that charge “in contest” with your card company by calling the number on the back of your card. Watch your card for other unauthorized charges. If this deal is legit, you can always call the dentist’s office directly for information and services.

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PRESSURE-SOMETIMES IT’S ENOUGH: Putting charges in contest on your credit card is the best way to stop illegitimate charges. You must do it as soon as possible AND get a reference number for your dispute. Other consumers have taken a different, and possibly more satisfying route: When calling, they raise hell with the company and threaten to report them to every regulatory agency you can think of. While yelling, screaming and threatening may be very satisfying, simply placing the charge “in contest” is always most effective. It’s very satisfying to have the law on your side.

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AM I ONE OF THE 87 MILLION?: Ever wonder how, the day you were looking at things about a tropical vacation using ads on Facebook, you started getting all sorts of email/Facebook spam about various tropical vacation packages? As of April 9, Facebook users can see if their data was breached by clicking at a link on the top of their News Feed and following the instructions. Users of Facebook should also check these pages in Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ads/preferences. This will tell you who (which advertisers) are getting your information. Delete the ones (or all of them) to protect your personal information from being “shared” or sold to the highest bidder.

Facebook is not just an interesting online magazine designed to keep you in touch with friends and entertained — it’s a very sophisticated data “vacuum” setup to glean personal information about you and then sell that information to organizations without your specific permission. MY ADVICE: Know how to severely limit the information collected about you or don’t use Facebook at all.

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ADJUST THESE FACEBOK SETTINGS: If you decide to use Facebook, read on: First of all, don’t play games on Facebook. If you want to play games, you could play online but better yet, do it on a stand-alone computer game console. Another way to further add to your online safety is to access Facebook’s App Settings: Click on the drop-down menu at the top right of Facebook.com, then select Settings, then click Apps. You’ll find “Game and App Notifications” section. If you are concerned about your privacy but still want to keep Facebook, turn this selection OFF. On the same page is the “Game and App” notification list. You can and should delete the Apps that look questionable or ones you don’t recognize.

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MAKE SURE YOU READ ALL THE FINE PRINT: Facebook has just recently updated its “Terms of Service,” trying to avoid further investigations by Congress and lawsuits from its millions of users. If you’re going to use Facebook at all, you’d better understand what you are agreeing to. In the past, when you used the Instant Message (IM) function of Facebook, you agreed that all information, including your text messages, could be read, stored and shared.

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DATA BREACH: After all the chatter concerning identity theft and data breaches, I am still recommending that my readers purchase a BASIC membership in Lifelock. It costs less than $10 per month and will protect you from most breaches and identity thefts. They will inform you as a crime is being committed. Recently, a representative of Lifelock called me during the dinner hour and asked me if I was at a local “big box” store attempting to open a $7K line of credit. Between bites of my shrimp linguini, I answered in the negative. I asked if there was anything else I needed to do, and the rep told me no. The scam was stopped and as I understand it, the thief was arrested. That’s good enough for me.

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REMEMBER BILL BROOKS: “He’s On Your Side”

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I have many more tips and interesting cases that I’m working on. Call me at 208-699-0506, or email me at BillBrooksAdvocate@gmail.com (#GoGetEmBillBrooks) You can follow me at www.billbrooksconsumer advocate.com. I am available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. Bill Brooks is a consumer advocate and the broker and owner of Bill Brooks Real Estate in Coeur d’Alene.

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